University of Sussex Special Collections and Mass Observation Archive Blog

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Panel discussion: what is happiness?



The panel discussion was full of content and different ideas that I can’t put it all into a blog post! So I’ll just give you a taster of the evening.

The panel included Lucy Robinson (University of Sussex), Annebella Pollen (University of Brighton), Ben Jones (UEA) and Emily Robinson (University of Sussex). The discussion took place in the Quadrant pub, Brighton, and there were plenty of people in the audience.

What makes the panel happy?

  • Lists and infographics make Lucy happy
  • Pictures of kittens make Annebella happy (only pictures because she’s allergic)
  • Ben is happy when he’s in Brighton
  • Emily is happy when she’s at home with wooly socks on, especially when it’s raining

Lucy suggested that we are more likely to be happy if we are true to ourselves. There was discussion about how people construct their identity on social networking sites, such as Facebook, which can result in a misleading representation of themselves and their lives.

Annebella focused on a project and book called One Day For Life. People took photos of everyday life in Britain on August 14th 1987. The purpose of the project was to raise money for charity, and the chosen photos were included in the book. The photographs differed in their content and in the photographers’ intentions. Some people took photos of happiness, others of suffering. Some used the project as a political forum to campaign, while others posted photos of beer and bad weather. Annebella pointed out that the project gave people a sense of collective identity because they believed that everyone was participating in the same event simultaneously. This was my favourite talk of the night because I enjoy taking photos and it was interesting to see the different perspectives people had on everyday life.

Ben talked about Brighton’s working class in the past and found that people were happy when they were at home. He said that council houses were frequently referred to as palaces, and that neighbours provided emotional and material comfort. But he also suggested that traditional gender roles in the home might limit happiness.

Emily looked at history and happiness. She said that there’s something about the impossibility of bridging the distance between now and then that is fascinating. She also suggested that you can feel a personal sense of connection with someone in the past who represents you.

During the discussion, some people argued that the definition of happiness can’t be pinned down and that happiness is a scale. Because of this, Mark Bhatti (who gave a talk on happy encounters in everyday life) suggested that other terms should be used instead. Someone else said that some people might feel obliged to perform happiness all the time with fear of being stigmatized. This prompted the question of who has the right to be unhappy. There were many interesting ideas flying around. Everyone has their own thoughts on what happiness means to them because it is relative and subjective.

I’ve really enjoyed attending and blogging about the Mass Observation Archive events, and look forward to seeing Jessica and Kirsty again when I visit The Keep.

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